Veterans deserve to consume cannabis without fear of persecution if they chose. I don’t care to argue about the defnition of medicine or if cannabis is a treatment. I care that 22 Veterans take their lives every day and that there’s a chance that cannabis can reduce that number. Thousands of Veterans have declared that cannabis helps them, and that’s enough for me to wage my war for drugs.
Now that the pleasantries are out of the way we can dive into why Veterans are choosing cannabis over opiates, the hurdles they face, and who’s fighting for progress.
The majority of Veterans who want to use cannabis are doing so because it improves their quality of life. That can be reducing pain, alleviating anxiety, or simply increasing uninterrupted sleep. I know what you’re thinking, there are prescription pills for those ailments, and they’ve been rigorously tested by the FDA and approved based on science! You’re right, but they tend to come with unwanted side effects like loss of appetite, anxiety, and overall lack of ambition. For example, Zoloft, a popular antidepressant often prescribed to Veterans suffering from PTSD, lists the following side effects:
- tired feeling
- sleep problems (insomnia)
- skin rash
- upset stomach
- stomach pain
- dry mouth
- changes in appetite
- abnormal ejaculation
- decreased sex drive
- difficulty having an orgasm
- dry mouth
- weight loss
But don’t worry, there are more pills to help if you experience impotence and constipation, and the VA is more than ready to fill your script.
In addition to PTSD, many Veterans site anxiety and the inability to sleep more than a few hours as reasons for turning to cannabis. I know how crappy I feel after a bad nights sleep, I can’t imagine feeling that way on a regular basis. Some Veterans I spoke to resorted to alcohol use to help battle insomnia reporting only mediocre results. Any deep sleep achieved was at the expense of headaches and soreness in the morning. If PTSD and anxiety aren’t enough, 1 in 10 Veterans suffers from severe chronic pain. As it turns out, cannabis is great for helping alleviate chronic pain!
Another under recognized benefit of cannabis consumption is the camaraderie that Veterans find when they get together. The fellowship alone provides relief for those in need and a venue for education.
But there are a lot of people that benefit from the status quo and have a vested interest its continuation.
At the top of the pile is the pharmaceutical industry. They have lucrative contracts that pad the pockets of supply chainers along the way. It’s a disgusting machine that’s essentially churning profits built on Veterans sacrifice. As long as there is conflict there will be soldiers, as long as there are soldiers there will be patients, as long as there are patients there are customers. It’s so bad that Newsweek has suggested that the VA may be responsible for the current opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. Gross.
It gets worse. Some pharmaceutical companies have actively campaigned against cannabis legalization while actively working to patent synthetic cannabinoid drugs. Just last November, Insys Therapeutics donated $500,000 against Arizona’s Proposition 205 while at the same time lobbying the DEA for favorable treatment for their newest synthetic. A December 2016 60 Minutes investigation revealed that Insys Therapeutics is under investigation for allegedly fabricating prescriptions to increase sales.
Big Alcohol and Tobacco are also top tier offenders. They’ve been found to aggressively target Veterans (and their families!) and often use patriotism laden advertising. But we know about those devils, it’s the ones hiding in plain site that should concern us.
In 2016, nearly $300,000,000 was spent on Lobbyists representing the interests of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Pharma. That’s 300 million dollars spent trying to manipulate elected officials so that these merchants of death can continue free wheeling and addiction dealing. Wondering which politicians are in whose pocket? Opensecrets has you covered.
This is all pretty ugly, but there’s hope, and it’s growing stronger every day. There is a contingent of politicians that are fighting very hard, not just for cannabis, but specifically for Veterans, and it’s not just hippie liberals. The Cannabis Caucus is a bipartisan group of Senators from states that voted to end prohibition with members including Dana Rohrabacher, Earl Blumenauer, Jared Polis, and Jack Young. They, along with others, are proposing and supporting legislation that would eliminate bureaucratic roadblocks and allow Veterans access to medical cannabis.
Recently, the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, which would have allowed cannabis consumption by Veterans in states where it is legal, was passed 24-7 by the House Appropriations Committee. Unfortunately, Pete Sessions, no relation to Jeff but equally reefer madness, exercised his authority by refusing to allow a full vote. Not cool Pete, but the voters will remember. And soon he might find pressure mounting as the Cannabis Caucus has launched a series of billboards with the intent of kicking his ass out next November.
Pressure from constituents is on the rise and some groups considered rather conservative are siding with cannabis. The American Legion, which touts more than 2.3 million members and 14,000 chapters, has spoken in favor of medical cannabis on multiple occasions going so far as to send a letter to President Trump requesting his direct involvement. The Legion is not alone, the 250,000 member strong AMVETS has also voiced their support for expanding cannabis research.
Researching cannabis for medical use by Veterans presents its own challenges. As a schedule 1 narcotic with no accepted medical value, studying cannabis is difficult to say the least. Mountains of paperwork, applications, background checks, and bureaucracy make navigating the DEA and FDA labyrinth nearly impossible, almost as if it was designed that way. But one researcher is making progress, and the lives of thousands of Veterans may dramatically improve if she gets her way.
Dr. Sue Sisley is a name to pay attention to. Dr. Sisley is currently operating one of the only government sanctioned cannabis research project studying the effects of cannabis on PTSD. The study began about 3 years ago and has hit plenty of roadblocks. First Sisely lost her job at Universtiy of Arizona, then her funding was challenged, and now she is struggling to find qualified patients because the Phoenix VA, the largest in the state, has been uncooperative, to say the least. “It was a seven-year saga with federal regulations just to get the study to this point – I don’t want to see that lost” said Sisely last September. But like the cannabis industry, she has pressed on knowing that her work will save lives, millions of them, so long as we use our voices and our votes.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11-20% of Veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Operations Enduring Freedom show signs of PTSD within 1 year of return. I’ll meet the VA somewhere in the middle and go with 15%, that’s still nearly double the rate of civilians.
If the information shared above is upsetting to you, good, it should be. This blatant corruption at the expense of Veterans should piss you off, now it’s time to do something. Sure, you can post this Facebook or Twitter, which I would appreciate, but you really need to contact your state representatives directly, and often. Cause here’s the thing, all the social media slackitivism might make you feel good, but likes on Facebook don’t translate to action in DC. You have to take an old school approach to politics and pick up the phone or write them a damn letter. The old people do it, that’s why their entitlements haven’t been touched in decades. Finding your local representatives’ contact information is really easy, if you can’t google “who is my state representative” click here for help.
Now that you know your rep, make sure they know you and what you care about. I recommend sending a nice email stating your position and requesting their support. Keep it cordial and brief, remember that everything we do is a reflection on the industry and we want to present professionally when possible. You might also consider following them on social media, I find that twitter has the most interaction with politicians. The point is to engage your representative in a constructive conversation that will move cannabis forward, not reinforce stereotypes.
Which brings me to the next, and most important point- vote. We have to vote, and there’s no better time to flex our voting power than at the 2018 midterm elections. All my life I’ve heard that only the baby boomers vote in midterms and that’s why nothing get’s done, can we change that? How about we stop being lazy stoners for 1 day in November and kick the country back on track. Yea, that sounds good, get out and vote.
Contacting local members of government and voting are paramount to ending prohibition, so is continuing to support organizations that have carried the torch like NORML, SSDP and MPP. These groups are responsible for where we are now. Their dedication to education, demonstration, and action have resulted in significant progress and they are nowhere near done promoting a positive cannabis culture. The groups provide regular legislative updates and are the go to source for activist news.
In addition to wide reaching organizations like NORML, SSDP, and MPP, groups that are dedicated to Veteran support are gaining momentum across the country. One prominent organization, The Weed for Warriors Project, has chapters throughout the country. Ranging from a few to several dozen, the Veterans meet regularly for community service projects, professional skills development, and, above all, camaraderie. There’s also the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, who donates medical cannabis to Veterans while giving them the opportunity to learn the cannabis business. In the northeast, the New England Veterans Alliance holds monthly meetings, and the Nevada based Grow for Vets is also active in both policy and cannabis cultivation.
Here’s my challenge to you- find a way to help thousands of amazing people get access to the relief they need by the methods they choose between Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. Send an email, make a phone call, start a conversation with a prohibitionist, do something to show support. We are at a critical junction in American history and we have the opportunity to legalize cannabis across from coast to coast, but only if we keep moving forward. The prohibitionists know that they only way they win is if we get complacent, and we can’t let them win, too many lives are on the line.
Thank you to all of the brave men and women that volunteered to protect our freedom, now we fight for you.